Finding your village

In November 2018 there was an article featured on the BBC website titled ‘Why maternity leave can be harder and lonelier than you imagine’ written by Emma Barnett, a Radio 5 live presenter. In it she talks about the statistics from a ComRes survey of 1021 women that found 27% did not enjoy their maternity leave as much as they thought they would. 47% felt lonely.

After I had Isabella, the midwives and health visitors I saw all mentioned different ways for me to meet other mums. At the time I found it slightly irritating. I had friends. Some of them were mums. I also had little to no energy to go out with the sole purpose of meeting people. The thought of it exhausted me. Small talk. Judgements. Endless chat about poo. Now I know why they do it. It is known that getting out of the house and meeting other mums can lessen the chances of a mum experiencing postnatal depression.

I did go to baby groups: quite a few. I did meet other mums (and we didn't talk about poo). What I found interesting was that in each of these groups the focus was entirely on the babies. In one class it took a full term before we mums even exchanged names. I went home to Andrew and said ‘no one has asked my name, or asked what I do’. Of course, I hadn’t asked anyone else either. The other mums were known to me as Jake’s mum or Ali’s mum for at least 2 months. And then we got to it: name, stories, worries & joys.

Finding your Village

My courses are 5 weeks long. The focus of them is on the parent and the baby together, and as individuals. I always focus on the parent first. How are they? Have they had a good week? Do they need a cuppa? My focus also moves to the baby, but mostly stays with the interactions and communications between the parent and their baby. That isn’t to say I don’t spend some time cooing. I do. Babies are gorgeous. But as I’m looking around I’m watching the massage strokes, I’m giving feedback, I’m witnessing nurturing touch and all of its benefits – including that release of oxytocin and moments of true connection.

One of the things I love about facilitating group baby massage classes is seeing the parents connect; sharing stories and normalising the highs and lows of parenting. During classes we talk about the crying, the lack of sleep, the time Isabella fell off the bed. She did. I was beside myself. The GP was fab. I called my Dad to confess and offload (looking for reassurance). He offered the reassurance I needed – my sister had fallen off the bed when she was a baby. It happens. I wasn’t a terrible mum.

I remember when I went to baby massage with Isabella, I had cut her finger nails for the first time and caught the skin on her thumb. It bled! She screamed. I felt terrible. Again, I needed reassurance that I wasn’t the worst mum. I’d cut my baby. In class I shared that this has happened. Every mum in the room then shared when it had happened to them too. The relief. They were all good mums, and they had done it too. We were all fine. The babies were all fine. We were all just doing our best with little sleep and all of the other challenges motherhood throws at you.

Emma Barnett says ‘There should be no guilt in saying you find maternity leave hard, that you don't enjoy every single second with your child, that it's knackering in the truest sense, that you miss alone time with your partner and with yourself, and at times, you find the experience, whisper it, boring.’

Most people told me to savour every moment while Isabella was small – “they grow so fast”. And I did. But, I also acknowledged that there were hard bits, and that I didn’t need to savour those too. I did enjoy chatting to the other mums about them though. Accessed 15/04/19.

Cheryl Titherly
Certified Infant Massage Instructor with IAIM
Cai Baby Massage       @caibabysussex